Call to the Turkish government to resume its open-door policy towards Syrians and to open its border for İraqi refugees

The lack of a near-term solution to the Syrian civil war as well as the establishment of a caliphate by the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS – formerly known as ISIS) across parts of Syria and Iraq, reaching to the border to Turkey, continues to put Syrians in desperate need of protection. The temporary protection regime for Syrians, including open gates and non-refoulement that Turkey has enacted, however, has continuously been disregarded by the Turkish state in recent months. Syrians are only granted limited access to the Turkish territory. Thus, we call to the Turkish government to resume its open-border policy towards Syrians and to fulfill its legal obligation that is based on domestic as well as international refugee and human rights laws.

In October 2011, the Turkish government has enacted a temporary protection regime in response to the mass influx of Syrian refugees fleeing from the regional conflict, which assures to provide an open-door policy and protection to all Syrians arriving to the Turkish territory[1]. The non-refoulement principle of the 1951 Refugee Geneva Convention[2] and the new Law on Foreigners and International Protection[3] require Turkish authorities to grant unobstructed admission of Syrians to the Turkish territory. As the numbers of Syrians finding refuge inside Turkey have risen dramatically in 2012, exceeding 1 millionin June 2014[4], Turkish authorities started to, in practice, limit Turkey’s open-border policy towards Syrians. Next to closing a number of official border crossings due to security concerns and the lack of space in existing camps, the Turkish Passport Control Police is, according to the UNHCR, restricting admission to Syrians without passports, making only exceptions for persons in urgent need of medical attention[5]. As a result, an increased number of Syrians enter Turkey irregularly with the aid of smugglers. The Turkish government should consider the apparent great fear of persecution that forces Syrians to risk the dangerous and expensive journey in search of refuge through irregular canals. Additionally, the irregular entry makes Syrians even more vulnerable as they are not automatically registered and do not receive legal residence permits.

As a consequence, the Human Rights Agenda Association calls to the Turkish authorities to resume a comprehensive open-border policy that provides unobstructed admission to all individuals fleeing from Syria in search of protection.

Additionally, recent events taking place in İraq have resulted in an estimated number of 1.7 million people being displaced since the beginning of 2014.[6] Numbers of displaced people, especially Ezidis, Christians and Turkmen and other minorities, have fled to Turkey in recent months. Until now, however, Turkey has not implemented any temporary protection regime for these groups despite this mass influx. Accordingly, İraqi citizens are merely allowed to stay in Turkey for one month on the basis of a 1-month tourist visa. After this timeframe they need to get a residence permit for which they have to pay money or get deported back to İraq where they face persecution from the militant group İslamic State (İS). Especially Ezidis are additionally faced with discrimination in Turkey on the basis of their religious beliefs and are afraid to disclose their religious background to Turkish authorities and the Turkish population.

However, these are not the only issues, the Turkish government need to find solutions for. İt has been repeatedly reported that Turkey has closed its border to İraqi citizens fleeing from the cruelties of İS. The fact that the Turkish border police prohibit the entry to displaced İraqis is in breach with the principle of non-refoulement stated in article 33 of the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees and against the right to seek asylum as stated in article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Therefore, we call to the Turkish government to open its borders to humans fleeing from İraq and to grant them an indefinite right to stay.

[1] Law on Foreıgners art. 91(1) (“Temporary protection may be providedto foreigners who, having been forced to leave their country and cannot return to the country they left, have arrived at or crossed the borders of Turkey in masses seeking emergency and temporary protec-tion.”)

[2]Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees art. 33, Apr. 22, 1954, 189 U.N.T.S. 137 [hereinafter 1951 Refugee Convention].

[3]Republıc of Turkey, Ministry of İnterior Directorate General of Migration Management 2014: Law on Foreigners and İnternational Protection, accessible at[20.08.2014].

[4]UNHCR 2014: UNHCR Turkey Syrian Refugee Daily Sitrep 13 August 2014, accessible at[20.08.2014].

[5]UNHCR 2013: Frequently Asked Questions Syrian Refugees in Turkey, accessible at[20.08.2014].

[6]İnternational Orgainzation for Migration 2014: İraq İnternal Displacement Crisis assessment Report 10. September 2014, accessible at[17.09.2014].

Merle Neubauer